Lili Hall is the founder, president and CEO of KNOCK Inc. and a graduate of the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM).
Lili Hall founded Minneappolis-based creative agency KNOCK Inc. in 2001 after 14 years in brand-building and business development with international brands. As KNOCK’s founder and president, Lili has grown KNOCK into a successful enterprise that continually achieves proven results for clients.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in Chicago to a woman-empowering Brazilian mother and a serial-entrepreneur Irish-American father. At the age of five, I moved to Brazil with my family, then came to Minneapolis for undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota. I appreciate having been raised with an international perspective as it played an important role in my eventual view of the business world. I love global travel and red wine, and live passionately for making connections. Overall, I’m highly intuitive about people and opportunities, and try to see the best in both.
In 2001, I founded KNOCK, inc., a brand-design creative agency in Minneapolis — and later, two sister companies, TREAT AND COMPANY (a strategic product and design studio) and NEIGHBOR (a video and animation company). Early on, I made a business decision to give back to causes and communities as much as I can, in particular to help make a difference for girls, women, minorities and underprivileged populations.
Running a certified woman- and minority-owned business, I believe in absolute gender parity and am always seeking ways to empower girls and young women to see themselves as entrepreneurs in a diverse, fully inclusive environment.
Why did you make the choice to do the IMPM?
I started thinking about continuing my education around 2004-2005. I knew I wanted a program that had a strong global perspective. I looked at many schools — from traditional MBA programs to even pursuing architectural school (yes, architecture is a personal passion I still have to this day!). But then I happened upon an article in the Harvard Business Review by Henry Mintzberg, co-founder of IMPM. He had a distinct worldly perspective on experiential learning: the idea of leveraging leadership theory with hands-on, on-site business experiences across the globe. I became intrigued. I started buying his books and continued to follow him online. As my fascination with his philosophy grew, I realized that I just needed to do it. I enrolled in IMPM in 2011, and I’m so glad I did. It’s changed how I view my company and the world I live in.
What kind of support did you company provide?
During school, I continued to serve in my role as KNOCK’s CEO & President. While the company provided financial support, I also received day-to-day mental and emotional encouragement from both leaders and staff, particularly from my business partner and Chief Creative Officer, Todd Paulson. He graciously fulfilled additional executive responsibilities in my absence so I could focus on school travels, research and writing. Overall, the company had the agility to flex with my work schedules and client appointments so I could devote time to learning. It was a great collaboration.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about management school that need to be corrected?
Henry Mintzberg says that you can’t take the idea of managing away from leadership — they are one and the same. I think sometimes business schools focus so much on aspirational leadership that they lose sight of the managing component — empowering individuals as effective managers.
Can you share three key takeaways from your experience with the IMPM?
First, because of IMPM’s global impact, professors and classmates are encouraged to continue collaborating, taking part in Exchange and Impact programs beyond the classroom where we can learn and evaluate one another’s business practices. The different perspectives help us all become stronger. And the reciprocal nature of the interaction doesn’t feel intimidating or hierarchical.
Second would be a rich continuum of learning that’s been applied deeply in my own company. Business framework theories — such as appreciative inquiry and horizon theory — have reimagined how I envision the company, with an intentional shift toward a servant leadership model of management. I’ve built a team that is empowered to make decisions more collaboratively.
Third, I’d have to say that I’ll never be the same. IMPM has pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and now I can be comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve noticed my threshold for change has become more accepting. In fact, I thrive on it.
How has the IMPM contributed to you business/life in the long term?
When you solve problems based on experiential learning, there is a shared, trusted effect that makes decisions more reasoned and equitable. When everyone’s at the table, seeing and hearing differing perspectives, you can’t help but elevate ideas to more inspired, actionable levels. Of particular note is the shadowing experiences of colleagues in the Exchange program: It’s put a new lens on how I run my business and, conversely, how my thoughts can hopefully contribute to better processes for other businesses.
I’m humbled to say that since my graduation, KNOCK has grown 78% in revenue and has increased employees by 44%. It’s clearly a testament to IMPM’s philosophy and learning methodology, and it’s inspired two of my managers to enroll in the program!
Finally, thanks to IMPM, I now have the inner confidence that allows me to come to terms with the fact that I will die not knowing everything — and that’s okay.